-Monika Yordanova Imagine a quiet, romantic, warm summer night. You are relaxing, maybe camping in the countryside. It’s an all-round beautiful evening, the crickets are chirping, the only light for miles is that of the charming fireflies, flying carefree around you and… Oh my God! What is that firefly doing? You thought fireflies were peaceful little creatures, one of the few bugs you actually liked. You heard that adult individuals of most species don’t even feed. Yet, you see the light of one particularly vibrant individual go out when meeting the light of another. What’s going on? Well, long before Gone … Continue reading The femme fatale firefly Photuris
-Dr Harry Siviter
Picture a warm summer’s evening. The birds are singing, flowers are blooming and amongst all this you can hear the gentle hum of bees going about their business. Imagine that bee, and most people will think of a bumblebee or honeybee.
And why shouldn’t you? Bumblebees are awesome and society ingrains a love for them from a young age. Pick up any kid’s book and the bees depicted within, will almost certainly be crudely drawn and anatomically incorrect bumblebees. We all love honey, right? So, naturally we think of honeybees when discussing the plight of bees?
However, despite what we think we know about bees, bumblebees and honeybees are oddities within the bee world.
Bumblebees and honeybees are eusocial, which means they live in colonies. They have an egg-laying queen and workers that collect nectar and pollen from flowers, provisioning the colonies developing larvae.
There are an estimated 20,000 bee species around the world and the vast majority of these are solitary. Here in the UK we have an estimated 250 bee species, of which we have one honeybee and 24 bumblebee species. All the other bees in the UK, unnoticed as they might be, do not fall into these categories.
So, what are these overlooked species? Well there are all sorts! Take the . This bee is often mistaken for a bumblebee, as it is cute and fluffy, but it belongs to the Anthophora family and is one of the first solitary bees to emerge in the spring. There are also the miners. Miner bees (as the name might suggest) are ground nesters, my favourite of which is the tawny mining bee, which is a furry, ginger bee, that emerges around April. Anyone who has a bee hotel in their garden will have probably seen mason bees (picture), which can lay their eggs in the tubes of bee hotels, or more traditionally hollow plant stems, which they provision with nectar and pollen, and seal with mud.
At this point the question you may be asking is ‘why should we care about these hipster bees?’ Well, to start with (as you can see from these pictures) they are charming little creatures which are understudied and undervalued.
As everyone knows (and tells me as soon as I say I work with bees), bees aren’t doing that well. Loss of habitat, an increase in bee pathogens, and the use of agricultural insecticides, can all negatively influence bees. But research published this week in Nature Communications has found that solitary bees are faring rather poorly when compared to eusocial bees (such as bumblebees and honeybees).
We can only speculate as to why this is happening. It’s possible that being eusocial buffers bees in the face of human induced environmental change. If a solitary bee dies before it reproduces it will have no offspring. If a eusocial worker bee dies it is likely that her sisters will still be able to reproduce. Being eusocial might therefore be advantageous in a human dominated world.
People are aware of the importance of bees for the pollination of both crops and wild flowers. A cynic might point out that the majority of pollination services here in the UK at least, are carried out by honeybees and bumblebees. So, in a selfish, anthropocentric way, perhaps solitary bees aren’t that important?
This is wrong on many levels.
Firstly, dependence on just a few bee species for pollination services is dangerous. Honeybee colony collapse disorder, in which 1000’s of honeybee colonies died across the western world between 2007-2008 (particularly in the USA), has shown how dangerous dependence on a single species can be. What would be the result if something similar were to happen again? In this case, I suspect we would be very grateful for these ‘back up’ bees. Secondly, there is a plethora of research showing that agricultural crop pollination, and seed set, is improved by the presence of wild bees. However, ignoring this sensible debate, solitary bees are lovely creatures, that should demand our attention and respect, regardless of ‘what they do for us’.
As a bee researcher, I admit, I am part of the problem. In 2 ½ years of working with bees, I have not conducted any research on solitary bees. For a PhD project, bumblebees and honeybees are low risk subject species. They are easy to work with, can be ordered in, and people care about them already – meaning new research will hopefully have impact. This means only a limited amount of research is conducted on solitary bees.
It is difficult to care about a group of animals we are unaware of and researchers, myself included, have a responsibly to understand these bees in more detail and perhaps, more importantly, to relay that information to the wider public.
There are simple ways we can all help – by providing flowers, nesting sites or letting the grass grow a little longer and in doing these things, we create space for these unsung heroines. Putting up a bee hotel is a great way help these bees, and why wouldn’t you? They add something special to your garden and are a great way to interact with wildlife.
Despite the doom and gloom around the world, I am optimistic about bee conservation, at least here in the UK, where the bee conservation movement seems to have real momentum. However, as we move forward, I believe it would be a great shame to forget our solitary bees. These lovable loners need a helping hand, and I think it’s only right we offer it to them.
-Monika Petrova Yordanova How many times have you heard people claim that the next generation is doomed because of us, or that we need to be more mindful of our environmental impact because… polar bears? I am not saying that having a globalist attitude to climate change is necessarily a bad thing, or that thinking about the future of the planet is problematic. It isn’t, but the problem we are facing is not one that we can expect to become an issue somewhere in the distant future. It is not a problem that is spatially separated by us either. This … Continue reading Climate change here and now
–Eleanor Dixon Is Gaming Really Good For You? In 2014, consumers spent $22.4 billion on the computer and video game industry. In 2015, the UK games industry was worth £4.2 billion. An estimated 36.4 million people play video and computer … Continue reading Is Gaming Really Good For You?
– Aksa Ali Shazia Ali-Webber has been leading a campaign against pollution in the city. She, like any parent, is concerned about the pollution that is present in London and the effect this is having on her young children. The … Continue reading Smog off pollution!
–Aksa Ali The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has proposed plans to increase the number of junior doctor training posts by 25%. In numbers, that is an increase from 6,000 to 7,500 doctors. The expansion plans aim to decrease the dependence … Continue reading Medical News: Jeremy Hunt, Has Proposed Plans To Increase The Number Of Junior Doctor Training Posts By 25%
– Polly Curtin Certain regions upon this earth are so cruel that any species which survives in such areas gains a profound status. To even exist in such areas is an accomplishment, but when a species thrives, such a creature … Continue reading Buddhism, The Savior To Saving Snow Leopards?
–Polly Curtin Apparently it’s not just humans who turn to alcohol for some reconciliation when rejected by the opposite sex! But male fruit flies indeed too, like to drink away their problems. Results of a study by Shohat-Ophir et al … Continue reading Male Fruit Flies Turn To The Bottle To Cope With Rejection
-Heather Whalley The last lecture this year for my conservation biology module required each student to put together a short presentation about where they believe the future of conservation biology lies. I can’t speak for the rest of my peers, … Continue reading A Plate Full Of Problems: The Future Of Food Sustainability
-Elliott Lloyd Livestock need drugs to maintain a high food production. Their rearing at high densities create perfect conditions for the spread of disease-causing microbes and parasites that need to be combated using drugs. However there are many negative consequences … Continue reading Livestock On Drugs